Ghostly Interlude

A history of an old house like Halsway, to be worth its salt, needs to include three ingredients: entry in the Doomsday Book, a connection with Royalty and some ghosts. Two ingredients have already been established and of the third ingredient Halsway also has its share. The story of the Bishop, resenting the desecration of his chapel, haunting the building and pelting any unwary visitor with apples, has been told earlier and was a favourite legend of the Crang family. A letter in the Country Life of October 1977 from Meg Crang Botting tells how she heard it from her grandmother who was granddaughter to old James Crang. He loved to regale his grandchildren with the story.

The other story, of the monk on his ghostly way to the chapel, has also been told earlier. Later tales put him in the upper corridor since the monks’ gallery was removed. There is no first hand account of his being seen but there is record of his footsteps being heard by Miss Mardon, her nurse and the housemaid. The maid, now an elderly lady, recalls that they, the only people in the house at the time and sleeping in separate bedrooms, heard the sound of footsteps passing along the corridor. Each thought that it was one of the others until the morning’s conversation disclosed that none of them had left their rooms that night.

Other manifestations continue into the present day. A young woman, known as the White Lady, but affectionately called Elizabeth by previous staff members, appears in the lounge by a window which, prior to alterations in 1870, was a doorway. Sometimes doors will open and close of their own accord. On one occasion when guests were in the lounge the door from the hall opened and the manageress jokingly told Elizabeth to come in, telling the guests that she was on her way to the library. To everybody’s shocked surprise the hall door swung shut followed by the opening and closing of the library door. A small boy saw her walk through the wall into the library and once she appeared beside him when he was playing in the lounge.

The identity of the White Lady is a mystery. One account says she is a Crowcombe girl who married a Bicknoller man who died soon after the wedding. The young widow returned to Crowcombe and died a few years later. Despite her deathbed wish to be buried beside her husband she was buried at Crowcombe and passes through Halsway on her way to be with him. An alternative story tells of a deserted village high on the Quantocks whose dead were re-interred in consecrated ground at Crowcombe, the white lady being one who cannot rest in the narrow valley and seeks her grave in the hills.

A Crowcombe man told of seeing a barefoot young woman at the churchyard gate in the village. She seemed in some distress but as he went across to offer help she disappeared. Perhaps she was Halsway’s Elizabeth.

Quite recently a guest at the manor awoke in the night and was aware of something that looked like a face high on the wall opposite his bed. He thought it was trick of the light in the corridor but as he watched it developed into the figure of an old woman dressed in black with a very white face who descended, as if down a staircase, to the floor.   She turned and with an intent gaze and an expression of deep concern looked towards him. The guest recalls that by then he found he was sitting up in bed with his back pressed hard against the headboard. He was about to make a dash for the door when she turned again and crossed the room and continued her descent, disappearing down through the wall. To be certain that it was not a dream he remained awake for the rest of the night sustaining himself with coffee and cigarettes.

A guest on an artists’ weekend was painting by the derelict pavilion of the old tennis court. As she worked, she experienced the strong feeling that she was not alone and her artistry was being critically examined. Later the pavilion door, which was very stiff, closed of its own accord. She also told that on another occasion, when in the district, she took a friend to see the manor. This friend became greatly troubled as they entered the grounds and stopped, explaining that because of the emanations that she felt coming from the building she was unable to bring herself to approach any closer.

Next Frances Gair Wilkinson